Great things don't come in packages at all

Rethinking packaging and making companies responsible for dealing with the crap they produce.

Millennials don’t really like to buy stuff, claims Fast Company. This is true. But I’m willing to bet this is only partly because of the Tim Ferriss-spawned minimalist- lifestyle fad and a bit more to do with the unwanted extras you get whenever you try to buy something.

Ever wished you had a machete to hack through the clamshell packages headphones arrive in? Throwing plastic in the rubbish gives me a serious case of hipster guilt, just like listening to Lana Del Rey or shopping at a Westfield mall. And that’s only the start of it. Venture out to the supermarket and you’ll find individually packaged prunes and shrink-wrapped avocados on polystyrene trays. Hardly the cutting edge of cool.

Overseas, there’s a bit of a movement towards making companies responsible for dealing with the crap they produce. In Germany, land of the future, there’s a law that companies must take responsibility for disposing of any packaging they sell. (It’s called Verpackungsverordnung, which makes it sound appropriately serious.)

Since we don’t have a Verpackungsverordnung in New Zealand (yet), I’m stuck trying to come up with creative ideas for throwing packaging away. Like those big polystyrene blocks that come with new computers. I once got rid of some by telling my little brother’s friend to take them home and hold them up to his ears while watching television to get better sound quality. (I didn’t feel guilty about this, because I figured the conditions in a 15-year-old’s bedroom might cause even something as robust as polystyrene to decompose.)

Polystyrene’s more evil than a whole army of Ayn Rands. It doesn’t break down for hundreds of years. There’s lots of it floating around in the ocean and it’s toxic to animal life, so it kills any bird or marine animal that eats too much of it. What’s a guilty millennial to do?

Luckily there are a few people out there who understand there’s a connection between their products and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Bought a Kindle recently? It’s protected with pressed recycled cardboard inserts instead of polystyrene, and it comes in a recycled box so sleek that Steve Jobs’ ghost is probably drooling with envy. Logitech has also decided to save a few trees (and possibly a few dollars) by printing the instruction manual for its new solar keyboard on the inside of the box it comes in. Obvious? Yes. Common? No.

Meanwhile, Harvard professor Dr David Edwards got freaked out by how 32 percent of household waste in the US is food packaging, and now he’s trying to replace plastic yoghurt pottles with edible membranes. Yep, just like fruit skins – he reckons there’s no reason packaging can’t be as delicious as what’s inside. Although his ‘WikiCells’ are still under development (hopefully he comes up with a better name in the process), imagine simply having to rinse off your muesli bar instead of trying to rip it open.

In the meantime, folks like Wanaka Wastebusters are busy shaming the supermarkets that shrink-wrap avocados – and praising the ones that don’t. After all, if someone’s going to feel guilty, better it be the people who manufacture the stuff in the first place. Outsource your guilt: now there’s an idea Tim Ferriss would approve of.

Rebekah White is the deputy editor of Good, and is really chuffed that it’s now safe to buy a Kindle